NASA has revealed a plan to launch a swarm of cell phone-sized robots that could find alien life on other planets.
The robots could speed up the search for life by being launched through the icy shell of a distant moon and swimming in unexplored waters.
The innovative idea by the US space agency is part of their Sensing With Independent Micro-Swimmers (SWIM) concept for exploration.
The concept was created to gain further knowledge on inhospitable celestial bodies like Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus, the Independent reported.
The cell phone-sized robots would be launched in a probe that could melt through the different moons’ icy shells.
Then, a mechanism would release them underwater where they can take measurements in the hostile environment.
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“Where can we take miniaturized robotics and apply them in interesting new ways for exploring our solar system?” asked robotics mechanical engineer Ethan Schaler.
Schaler was awarded a $600,000 grant from Nasa’s Innovative Advanced Concepts to study feasibility and design options for this program.
They are hoping to build a 3D-printed prototype within the next two years.
“With a swarm of small swimming robots, we are able to explore a much larger volume of ocean water and improve our measurements by having multiple robots collecting data in the same area,” Schaler said.
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The unique design of the small robots will come in handy to search for signs of extraterrestrial life, Nasa said.
The robots would also be used to assess the potential habitability of distant planets.
The swarm would be equipped with a propulsion system and host sensors which would allow it to swiftly move around after it lands.
“What if, after all those years it took to get into an ocean, you come through the ice shell in the wrong place?” said SWIM scientist Samuel Howell.
“What if there’s signs of life over there but not where you entered the ocean?
“By bringing these swarms of robots with us, we’d be able to look ‘over there’ to explore much more of our environment than a single cryobot would allow.”
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Nasa has yet to plan a mission with SWIM, but the robots could potentially be a part of a payload mission in 2024.
This mission will arrive at the Jovian moon in 2030 where the mini-robots will hopefully gather data.